Identify why your business matters, surround yourself with people smarter than you and encourage vulnerability in yourself as a leader.
These were only a few of the many insights shared by a diverse range of speakers for “90 Ideas in 90 Minutes,” a program hosted by Lehigh Valley Business at DeSales University in Center Valley this morning.
From memorable anecdotes to inspiring stories, each of the nine speakers talked about the 10 best business ideas they learned over the years, packing in a surprising amount of detail and intriguing thoughts in their allotted five minutes of time. More than 100 professionals attended the annual event, with Weidenhammer the presenting sponsor.
One of the most important things that business leaders need to do is to know their product or mission. If it takes more than 10 seconds to explain, you have a problem, said Shelley Brown, president and CEO of State Theatre Center for the Arts Inc. in Easton.
“What is it that you do? Why do you matter?” Brown said. “I know what we do, we make memories. Everybody on our team knows that.”
Kevin Campbell, president and CEO of Barry Isett & Associates Inc. in Upper Macungie Township, said the question, “What do you do for fun?” has become its No. 1 interview question because it reveals a lot about a potential employee. It shows whether a person is energetic and outgoing but also helps to know whether he or she has the proper values and can fit in the company’s culture.
Everyone enjoys being on a winning team, he said, and this is another idea the company puts its effort behind.
“The advantage is having a healthy workforce,” Campbell said. “Our biggest challenge is recruiting. What we’ve been striving for, for many years, is a healthy workplace. It’s fragile. It can take a long time to get there and it can fade quickly.”
Captain Bill Kirk, CEO and co-founder of Weather Trends International Inc. in Hanover Township, Northampton County, said his biggest mistake was not to make more of an effort to hire more veterans. Kirk, a Gulf War veteran, said they often are better-trained, hard-working and loyal.
He also focused on the idea of companies attempting to do the impossible, noting examples of inventions in history that are commonplace now but thought to be impossible when first introduced.
He also spoke about the importance of following your passion and surrounding yourself with people smarter than you.
Kirk also spoke about striving to give employees the best salary, emphasizing that he’d rather have a longtime employee who was expensive than a revolving door of talent.
Donna LoStocco, president and CEO of First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, based in Bethlehem Township, said leaders should encourage vulnerability in themselves.
“This is something that transformed my business life,” LoStocco said. “Being vulnerable is risky.”
She spoke about some of the reasons why it’s helpful for business leaders to be vulnerable, mainly because it allows them to be themselves.
“It’s disarming, so it’s actually a strategy,” LoStocco said. “It gives you the opportunity to turn your enemy into your ally.”
It helps leaders be more authentic and also encourages employees to come to you with new ideas, she added.
Constance Morrison, president and CEO of Home Health Care Management Inc. in Wyomissing, spoke about the need to embrace technology and be nimble to quickly respond to the demands of your market.
“Be aware of change coming even if you don’t like it,” Morrison said. “Try new ideas. The whole idea is to not be Kodak or Blockbuster. You want to be disruptive. Technology is the foundation of most of our businesses.”
She suggested finding a piece of technology no one is using, a service no one is offering or some other practice your competition is afraid to do and then do it.
Morrison also spoke about the importance of knowing your staff and knowing yourself as a business leader.
Mike O’Rourke, publisher of Lehigh Valley Business, spoke about how it’s OK to say no to a deal or new job, noting that sometimes businesses are too eager to go for the big deal and don’t realize what the implications could be. He also said it was important not to micromanage and create a culture that inspires.
Ashley Russo, president and executive producer for ASR Media Productions in Bethlehem, said it’s important for leaders to accept their blind spots and own their strengths.
“When we started our business, we started to realize we needed to bring in some professional development and leadership,” Russo said. She suggested investing in a DISC or Myer-Briggs study, assessment tools that provide insight into personality and behavior, which can help you surround yourself with people who know what you don’t.
She also spoke about the importance of making time each day to look inward and recharge. Mindfulness can also help you work better with your team, she added.
Steve Somers, owner and president of Vigon International in Smithfield Township, spoke about the importance of doing work you love to do and that your team is the greatest asset of a company. Your success is completely dependent on the people you have, he added.
“My dream was to create something where it’s real, where my team is my family,” Somers said. “Find great people. Hire slow. Fire fast.”
Andrew Stanten, president of Altitude Marketing in Emmaus, said the one thing you can’t teach is “fire in the belly.” People either have it or they don’t, he said.
It also helps to think about what type of company you would like to work at if you were an employee.
“I always take the time to take a step back and think of myself as an employee,” Stanten said. “Act and run a company as if you were an employee.”
It also pays to share your financials with your employees. It helps build trust, and everyone knows where the company stands, he said.
“If you have that cash cushion, they feel confident,” Stanten said.